Bob Dylan: Sellout?

Bob Dylan played Ho Chi Minh City last night, and left out the peace anthems that made him famous during the Vietnam War. A spokesperson said Dylan had to submit his set list to the government ahead of time, just as he had when he played Beijing last week.

Bob Dylan: Sellout?

New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd certainly thinks so:

Sean Wilentz, the Princeton professor who wrote “Bob Dylan in America,” said that the Chinese were “trying to guard the audience from some figure who hasn’t existed in 40 years. He’s been frozen in aspic in 1963 but he’s not the guy in the work shirt and blue jeans singing ‘Masters of War.’ ”

Wilentz and Hajdu say you can’t really censor Dylan because his songs are infused with subversion against all kinds of authority, except God. He’s been hard on bosses, courts, pols and anyone corrupted by money and power.

Maybe the songwriter should reread some of his own lyrics: “I think you will find/When your death takes its toll/All the money you made/Will never buy back your soul.”

It must be difficult to be an icon from the ’60s, held dear and expected not to change by people who likely have.

Here’s last night’s set list:

# Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking

# It Ain’t Me, Babe

# Beyond Here Lies Nothin’

# Tangled Up In Blue

# Honest With Me

# Simple Twist Of Fate

# Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum

# Love Sick

# The Levee’s Gonna Break

# A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

# Highway 61 Revisited

# Spirit On The Water

# My Wife’s Home Town

# Jolene

# Ballad Of A Thin Man

# Like A Rolling Stone

# All Along The Watchtower

# Forever Young

  • Jim Shapiro

    While disappointing, Dylan’s behavior helps one to remember that great artists are not necessarily great people.

  • Maureen Dowd displayed her ignorance of both Bob Dylan’s repertoire and subversive politics. In his Beijing show, Dylan performed “Ballad of a Thin Man” followed by “All Along the Watchtower,” both of which are quite revolutionary. “The Times They Are A Changing” was also included in the Beijing set. The Shanghai set included “Desolation Row.” The reports I’ve read of the China shows indicate that Dylan performed “Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking” (look up the lyrics; especially the first verse) — heavy apocalyptic Christian overtones and all — as the opener for the Beijing and Shanghai shows. If you want accurate criticism from an American journalist, James Fallows’s piece for The Atlantic ( is the only thing I’ve seen even remotely worth your time.

  • Skyler Vilt

    I read the article on The Atlantic that did a good job of critiquing Dowd’s one-sided take on Dylan’s performance in China, and it seems like it could be just as easily applied to his performance in Hanoi. His “protest” songs are not limited to only a handful of overtly subversive tunes. Many of his songs are powerful anti-x, be it militarism, authoritarianism, or corruption (amongst others).

  • Suzanne

    I was pretty surprised that the Dylan show in China was the subject she chose in the limited space of two columns a week. I couldn’t understand why she wrote about this at all.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Dear Michael and Skyler –

    Thanks for the Atlantic piece and well-stated opinions.

    And here I thought that I had the opportunity to use the term “sycophant” twice in one day 🙂

    Perhaps I won’t throw in the towel on one of my favorite “icons from the ’60s” quite yet 🙂

  • Jim Shapiro

    Dear Suzanne –

    Perhaps Dowd was using the 60’s icon Dylan as a foil to point out the crimes of the Chinese regime, and the US’ acquiescence in those crimes by our not doing more to stop them, because of our economic dependence.

    Our maybe she just hates Dylan 🙂

  • Drae

    I didn’t realize people still read Maureen Dowd.

  • Judas

    There should be no question as to whether Bob Dylan is a sell out. His music has been in commercials for decades.